Viva La Vida

It’s a conundrum. Coldplay has become one of the world’s most successful rock acts of the past decade amassing album sales of more than 32.5 million thanks to a tried and true formula that melds classic rock with indie aesthetics. The band finds itself at a point of directional options; if they continue on in the same mode they will probably see commercial success, however, critics might question their artistic credibility. If they strike out in a new direction it might bring a sense of renewed enthusiasm for band members but will their audience stick with them?

Sometimes you can have the best of both worlds and Coldplay might be just the band to prove it. They enlisted the help of producers Brian Eno and Markus Dravs in pushing the group to new level of experimentation. Eno, who aided the Talking Heads in their transition from punk simplicity to intricate world-influenced pop, does much the same here and is credited for creating “sonic landscapes” in the album’s liner notes. Likewise, Dravs, who has worked most recently with Bjork and Arcade Fire, adds a darker intensity to the proceedings. Jon Hopkins gets snaps for adding “colours and additional production.”

The albums title, inspired by a Frida Kahlo painting, hints at coming change as does the cover art, Eugene Delacroix’s painting immortalizing the French Revolution. Although I wouldn’t count Coldplay’s new material as revolutionary it is immediately clear the band has embraced ideas that freshen their sound – something that was lacking on their last 2 releases. Viva La Vida is a song cycle with each cut flowing into the next and instrumental pieces bookending the completed project. Production is dense and, at times, foreboding. Chris Martin eschews his falsetto for a lower register which benefits the weightiness of the songs.

Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends is populated by ghosts, beginning with the dreamy “Cemeteries of London.” Wafting spirits still mark time as they wander the cities and oceans, perhaps unaware of their own demise. Sometimes the lost spirit is the one held within the narrator as he wanders through his life and relationships. The album’s lyrics are oblique allowing for individual interpretation. One can even read a political undertone to some of the songs, albeit very subtle commentary. This is most evident in “Lost” and the title track. “Viva La Vida” is a glorious rock song that shimmers with energy and soaring crescendos and rolling waves of drums. The album ends with the poignant yet hopeful “Death And All His Friends.” Coldplay traveled between Latin America and Spain recording these songs in “a bakery, a nunnery, a magic shop, a church.” Although the band doesn’t overtly try to recreate the sites and sounds of their journey they do incorporate the experiences (and maybe a few ghosts) into Viva La Vida. It is to their credit that they took the leap of faith in themselves and walked away from the tried and true. What they’ve found is a new interpretation of Coldplay

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)